4.5 out of 5 stars
Wren Lithgow has not really had a conventional upbringing. Her mother, Cleo, is a concert pianist who travels to different cities around Europe and she accompanies her as she moves. This time they are heading to the city-state of O, a place that according to her mother she was conceived in almost twenty years ago. Wren’s only information about this man is a scrap of a photo with his face on.
Finding him whilst they are staying there is her top priority and soon after arriving at their new abode, Wren has decided to leave her mother and venture into the city alone. She takes a few possessions, including the wind-up toy she calls Ariadne, a gift that arrived in her life a while ago and raised more questions than it answered.
She has no idea where to go though and stops at a café for a cake and a coke. Wren is soon on the move again trying to find her way around a city that she knows almost nothing about. A man who might be who her father walks past and she follows before realising that it almost certainly isn’t him. The next thing she knows is that she is lost. She is stopped by a woman in the street who tries to tell her that the curfew is starting soon, and points her in the direction of a hotel.
The following morning she tries to work out where she is in the city and heads out to buy a map. Nowhere has one for sale and she cannot work out why. She ends up in the library. It is mostly full of older people, but near her is a young guy sitting at a desk with his head on it sleeping. She feels the need to talk to him before he hurries off. A few days later he is there again and she manages to talk to him a little more and as it is nearly curfew, they head back to his apartment.
It is not long before she is moving into his apartment and hoping that Alexis will be able to help find her father; but will this mysterious city want to relinquish its secrets?
The city felt a little like Beszel from The City & the City by China Miéville, it feels like a place that you may have visited at some point when travelling. Menmuir has then cleverly layered that familiarity with the unease of being in a place as an outsider, where different conventions are normal and where everyone is watching.
I loved this haunting beautiful story of a girl trying to find her past in this dystopian city of O. Menmuir’s writing has found that perfect balance of tenderness about Wren, whilst conveying the brutal heavy-handedness of an authoritarian state.